Maximizing efficiency for Thanksgiving food donations (need answer fast!)

My work is having their annual Thanksgiving food donation drive this week. Most years they give us a list of recommended items. In the past, I would just give the typical requested stuff, maybe some canned food too because they are easy to buy and carry, but lately I’ve been wanting to maximize efficiency when it comes to donating.

Here’s the list:

-Thanksgiving related stuff-
Pie crust
Pumpkin pie filling
Cranberry sauce
Mashed potatoes
Canned yams
Canned vegetables
Canned fruit

-Misc. stuff-
Beef stew
Canned meat
Spaghetti sauce
Tomato sauce
Canned vegetables

A while ago I realized that giving someone a can of food, like Spaghetti-O’s or some green beans might be easier, but how long can one really eat that for? One meal, maybe two? So I went for more base cooking ingredients. I’ve focused the food donation on things like flour, sugar, salt, 25lb bags of rice, large boxes of cereal, coffee, etc. I’ve stayed completely away from canned food or sauces, soups, and fruit. I know that some people might have limited resources to make things from flour, or rice, but I figure that the drawbacks of that is outweighed by the ability to eat a bag of rice for weeks instead of one meal. Also, the social services department that we’re donating these things to run food kitchens and stuff, so they must have at least some cooking utensils for making things.

Anyways, I wanted to ask, since some of you probably have experience in this sorta thing, do shelters, if they cannot get monetary donations, prefer canned goods that’s easier to heat and serve, or would they rather get bags of rice they have to cook and season? What’s the best bang for the buck, so to speak? From the list, I think I’m going to focus on the cereal, butter, crackers, and sugar. Nothing too fancy, but you can eat those things for a while (and they don’t spoil quickly!)

My experience is that it depends on the shelter/bank. Some are traditional “soup kitchens”…they’ll appreciate things they can make and serve in bulk. Some are “emergency pantries”. They’ll appreciate smaller canned goods that they can give out to families, who can cook at home.

Do you know which food bank will be getting the donations? If you have time, call and ask them…or see if they have a web page talking about donations. If not, can you figure out what style of help they offer people?

It’s good for you to try to maximize the good you’re doing. But don’t stress it too much - it’s way better in this situation to do something mostly good, instead of doing nothing. It’s hard to go wrong. :slight_smile:


25 lbs of rice in a bag? Really?

Unless this is definitely going to a soup kitchen feeding a lot of people I’m not sure that’s really the best method. I eat rice frequently but I’m not sure even I would want a 25 lbs bag of it. Have you considered smaller 2 lbs bags? In addition to be more realistic portions for a typical US family, 2 lbs bags can be put in a freezer or one of those Ziplock or Glad containers to keep it vermin free.

You might also consider bags of noodles/pasta, condiments, and basic spices. Stuff like beans and rice can be awful bland, especially if you eat it a lot.

You’re being kind and clever at the same time! Maximizing your donation will make you feel it’s done more good and you’re more likely to donate again.

The best of all worlds for a food pantry donation would be a bag of dry bean soup. It’s more expensive than dry beans alone and contains less BUT - all the flavorings are there, instructions are there (some can even be microwaved, which someone not allowed a hot plate might appreciate if they have access to a microwave). The bag is small enough to go in a fridge or freezer w/o taking up much space as well and plenty can be added to them in the way of veggies or other proteins.

Stuffing doesn’t fill anyone up for long.

Keep in mind wherever you donate has to store, that’s why you’d limit where you’d donate the 10+ pound bags of rice, barley and corn meal ( I buy them but we have no vermin in my house and it gets gone quicker than you’d think in hot cereal.)

While I appreciate wanting to avoid sauces, tomato paste can be flexible for many things so if you see a good case price consider it.

Canned meats are always in demand and will go fast; pouches even more so as some folks won’t have anywhere to drain a can.

Thank you for thinking of others and sharing what you have!

Thanks for the responses, I ended up just focusing on the things I thought would be eaten for a while, but I did throw in a random jar of peanut butter in there.

Unfortunately no, I only know that its going to the department of social services which runs soup kitchens/shelters? I don’t even know what they run, but food is involved.

You freeze rice? We just leave it out. Granted we don’t have vermin in our house, but raw rice grains don’t really spoil quickly. As far as why I lugged that bag of rice to the donation cart, its cause I’m Chinese and we eat a ton of rice. At any time in our house of 4, we have 2 25lbs of rice. I figured that if they have any traffic at all, they can go through a bag of rice pretty quickly. I didn’t get any spices except 2 5lbs bags of sugar, since that’s on the list.

I’ve never heard of a “bag” of “dry” bean soup. You mean they freezedry it like those astronaut food and you just crack open the bag like an MRE and add water? I don’t even think I’ve ever seen that. A friend of mine once got some freezedried stuff labeled as zombie apocalypse survival kits though

I did keep in mind about things that won’t spoil quickly. From the list, I got rice, sugar, crackers, tuna, and 3 boxes of cereal. I looked for butter then realized you’d have to refrigerate it, so instead I bought a jar of peanut butter. Also another random 7 or 8lb bag of rice cause it was my favorite brand (Calrose, none of that long grain stuff)

I think she means bean soup mix, like this: A variety of beans, plus a “flavor packet” not entirely unlike ramen. Pair it with a can of spam, diced and, if you’re really poor, a few cups of rice, and that’s eatin’ for a week. There are some pretty good recipes at that website, actually.

You can freeze it, put it in the refrigerator, or store it at room temperature in a vermin proof container. Poor folks are often advised to keep things like that in a refrigerator or freezer simply because vermin can’t get into them, not because of spoilage. Unfortunately, the poor are more likely to live in places infested with rodents or bugs.

Oh, OK, that makes sense now - here in the US most people don’t eat nearly as much rice. If people in your area do then by all means donate accordingly.

That’s exactly what I’m talking about! Ham flavored but kosher - too funny. Even if all you have are chicken bones in a cheesecloth pouch you can still flavor these mixes in a slow cooker on medium all day.
OP, you did a great job!

To be honest, as unsatisfying as it is, cash donations are the most useful. If you are buying something outright (rather than donating something that is sitting in your pantry), cash is the best way to make sure that people get what they need most.

That said, when I was young and broke, what I wanted most was canned pineapple. Generic fruit cocktail and canned spinach was cheap, but canned pineapple was a luxury. So many food bank items are things that basically nobody wants- potted meat, canned celery, and powdered nonfat milk. So normal, nice, but slightly less bare-bones stuff- the same thing you might feed your family- was always a huge treat.

And that’s really the best way to think of it. Would your family like it?

I’m going to be a contrarian (every thread needs one)

Unless your work has some very specific project in mind, that list is terrible. In general, at least in my experience, the things that Food Banks want are shelf stable and ready to eat. Not pie crusts.

It’s very easy to forget how little some folk have when times get bad. If they need assistance from a Food Bank, then they probably won’t have things that we do and which we take for granted. Like a kitchen. Or cupboards. Or a can opener. Or any time to cook.

I apologise if I come across as crass, but the 25lb bag of rice might be just as bad. If it goes to soup kitchen, it would be great, but to a family fallen on hard times, it isn’t much use.

Off the top of my head, here’s a few things that might make it a less than ideal gift
[li]25lbs is a big bag. Very awkward to take on the bus[/li][li]25lbs is a lot of rice. What are we going to do with it next week when we move?[/li][li]25lbs of rice is a big bag. I’m going to have t leave it out on the floor of my shared bedroom[/li][li]How do you cook rice?[/li][li]I know how to cook rice, but I don’t have any salt[/li][li]Or a saucepan[/li][li]Or even a stove[/li][li]I don’t have twenty minutes to wait around while the rice is cooking[/li][/ul]

Canned chili, OTOH, tastes like crap, but it’s quick, easy (if it has a ring pull top) and full of calories. Sometimes crap really is best.

Well, there are Food Pantries for people who *do *have homes and kitchens and whatnot. And no food pantry I’ve ever been to forces people to take what they don’t/can’t use - they may hand you a prefilled bag, but there’s always someplace to leave the items you know you won’t use. They don’t want them going to waste, either.

All the food pantries by me keep some perishables like butter and milk, although the milk is usually single serve cartons. There’s a huge push (and, I assume, grant money) to distribute more fresh fruits and vegetables and less prepared and processed crap. Yes, hungry people need food, but they don’t need diabetes.

I once got many, many pounds of ground venison from a food pantry. They were frozen chubs, donated by a local wild game butcher, either out of the kindness of his heart or to make room in his freezer, I’m not sure which. Apparently, I was the only person who said they’d take it, so they gave me all of it. We had venison burgers and venison chili and venison stew…eventually, we had venison meatloaf and venison Hamburger Helper!

Oh, and ditto on the canned pineapple!

I think I still have some two year old Gov’ment Corn Flakes in the pantry. Really not good for anything besides crumb topping or science demonstrations using magnets. Horrible stuff.

At my company, people drop their food donations in a big barrel that’s switched out after a week or so for an empty one. In the meantime, the donations pile up in that barrel. And given that many of these donations are canned goods, I’m wondering how likely is it that the plastic bag of beans is going to get torn open, ending up as mess of loose, dried beans at the bottom of the barrel. Similarly, wouldn’t the pie crusts end up getting crushed?

Is potted meat the same as canned meat?

The choices I make are usually from the list provided though. In the past, they’ve had stuff like flour and coffee there, so occasionally I still give those things. This year, owing to stuff I’ve read about charity organizations, I usually try to stick to a list because I’ve read that donations of stuff they don’t want/need just causes problems. I’ve thought about giving money too, but elsewhere, not part of the food drive. It seems I’m a lot cheaper if I’m handing over cash rather than food. I can buy $50 worth of groceries to give but you’d have to pry $20 from my cold, blood-soaked fingers

My family would like another bag of rice! :smiley:

For the list, I think it was given to us by the organization we’re collecting for, which is the local department of social services that runs food kitchens and stuff for the needy. I’m not really sure of their setup but the list isn’t ours.

Here’s what I know from talking to the lady in charge of the food drive at our work: its for that department and they both do food kitchen-type meals and they give out food to needy families (we also have a turkey raffle where we buy 30 turkeys, half of which goes to a family and half of which is raffled off to our employees). She mentioned that they prepare Thanksgiving-type food, which is why there are 2 lists. Apparently some cooking goes on for people at these places. She’s also told me that sometimes, the department will just hand out food to a family. Its rather confusing and I don’t know how it works exactly, but it sounds like they do a mixture of free meals for people and giving food out to people who need it. So yeah, even though I had reservations about things like pie crusts, I imagine that they care given to locations that will actually bake pies for people

The way I figured, they could probably use that rice in the free meals place, cooking up something for people, or they can hand it out in smaller portions in ziploc bags to individuals or families. I guess I didn’t really think about how people would cook it, since to me at least, its extremely easy and can be paired with a lot of things

Believe me, I thought of the same thing. But ultimately, I decided that while a can of chili or something special like that might be nice once in a while, you’d eat that for maybe 1 meal, 2 tops. A bag of rice, while needing to be cooked and is fairly bland, can be eaten for weeks. The good thing is that most other people I’ve seen donating tend to stick with the canned stuff. There was a ton of Spaghetti-O’s and cranberry sauce that I saw there, and not much in the way of rice and basic cooking ingredients. I was going to get some mashed potato mix too, but I saw that there were many boxes of those already

While this is true, remember that actual starvation is still nearly unheard of in the US. We’re hungry, but we’re not starving. We’re hungry for variety, for comfort, for vitamins and minerals, for things that actually taste good; we’re hungry for something that helps us forget, just for 20 minutes, that we might get the doorbell ring of a police officer with a notice-to-evict at any moment.

We’ve still got plenty of calories, we’d just like to remember what it feels like to enjoy dinner and not to get fat because we can’t afford anything but simple carbs and fat in cans. (Seriously, I gained 50 pounds off food pantry food, even while I took every fruit and veg they could spare! When you have only calorie dense food, you overeat it, because you still need quantity to fill your stomach.) What should you donate? Donate what *your *family likes. That’s what my family likes, too.

(Rhetorically written from a year-ago perspective. I’m lucky enough to be the one *donating *to food pantries now. Lots of no-added salt canned veggies and fruit in fruit juice are my donation of choice. And, I admit, beans. Ugh. Beans. Never have I had such a love-hate relationship with a legume.)

In that case, I withdraw my objections to pie crusts and cranberry sauce. :smiley:

We have two food banks in our 15k population town and one of them is in the local Catholic church. I don’t know if they cook for anyone but they do give out food. They were at the grocery store recently and they were giving out lists of what they needed, and the list looked pretty much exactly like the second part of the OPs list. Normally I’d donate something healthy and filling (or money) but this time I bought what I always wished had been in our church food bags when I was a kid (there were many Thanksgivings, Christmasses, birthdays, and just normal days that wouldn’t have had food or presents without our church so I still donate even though I’m agnostic).

Anyway, when I was a kid we got government milk, cheese, butter, etc. From our church we got beans, rice, cereal, bread, peanut butter, etc. What I really wanted was some Spagetti-O’s with meatballs. We never got that. I had eaten it at a friend’s house once and fell in love but the people who donated to my church were too practical for that. It was much too expensive for my mother to waste food stamps on.

So, in honor of my inner child, I donated Spagetti-O’s with meatballs. :D*

  • Canned pasta was on the list